COVERSTORY

Developing Lo-fat Humans
By Barry Gottlieb


Now that scientists have managed to make lo-fat versions of every food product known to shopperkind, isn't it time they did the same thing to people? You'd think this would be easy. After all, if they can push the evolutionary scale of butter ahead by first creating margarine, then lo-fat margarine, and then "I Can't Believe It's a Food Product!," why can't they figure out a way to take the fat out of us?

It's not like we don't need it. After all, 54 percent of the adults in this country are overweight, as are 25 percent of the children. But if you ask them why they have so much trouble losing weight you'll find that every one of them gives the same response: "Would you pass the potatoes and gravy?"


Are we really fat? Or just big-boned?

To be fair, overweight people have had a hard time knowing for sure if they're fat. For years weight was the yardstick, and that meant checking it against a chart which showed the optimum weight for your height. This worked well until everyone in the country declared themselves to be large framed, thereby eliminating the last good reason not to eat that third helping of pecan pie a la mode.

Then someone decided that weight wasn't important, body fat was. Their reasoning was based on a simple discovery: that a pound of Crisco weighs more than 12 ounces of meat. To measure this in the human body, which unlike a can of Crisco doesn't take well to using a can opener to look inside, they started measuring the roll of fat around your waist. You know, the thing you affectionately call a spare tire, love handles, or "I Can't Believe Daddy's Not Pregnant!" They did this by using a pair of calipers, an instrument that looks and feels a lot like those tongs they used to deliver blocks of ice with, except that unlike ice tongs, calipers weren't outlawed under the Geneva Convention.

Then someone figured out that they could measure body fat by weighing a person who was sitting in a tub of water. This was based on the Archimedes Principle, which states that "the amount of water displaced by an object is directly proportional to how long it will take to mop up the floor afterwards."

More recently, someone devised a mathematical formula which lets you figure out your body fat percentage by using a scale and a calculator. This method works well as long as you remember to step on the scale and not on the calculator.

To come up with your body fat index, divide your height in meters squared by your weight in kilograms. If you're an American, this means you'll typically make a mistake like forgetting to place that one in front of your weight in pounds so you'll end up converting our weight into Celsius, which really isn't as bad as it seems since that's the same figure they'll be using as the conversion rate for the Eurodollar, which will finally come to a wallet near you once the French stop insisting that they put a picture of Jerry Lewis on it.

But now scientists have come up with the simplest, most accurate way to figure out if you're overweight. It's represented by the simple formula: TV=FAT, where TV is the amount of television you watch and FAT is, well, fat.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (motto: "Even we fall asleep when we read it") showed that children who watch a lot of television are measurably fatter than those who don't. In the scientific world this is called a startling discovery. To the rest of us it's known as: Duh!

But TV isn't the only culprit. Eating has a lot to do with it. After all, this is the country where 3,500 new soft drinks were introduced last year. Where each American eats an average of 26.2 pounds of candy annually. And where it's so important to eat during a 3-hour baseball game that you can now get orthodox Kosher food in Yankee Stadium.

Don't be surprised to see these conclusions in an upcoming issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association under the title "Treating Obesity-the Key to Our Buying That New Vacation Home We've Been Looking At."

Just remember: you saw it here first.


Proud to be an American?

It's not easy being American. Not only did we have to put up with the Winona-gate trial this year, and Regis Philbin twice a day most days, we also have to listen to people from other countries accuse us of being loud, obnoxious, arrogant, badly dressed, and fat. Come on now, we're not all badly dressed.

And truth be told, we're not all fat, though it's getting close. We can deny it all we want, just like those McDonald's wrappers we swear were under the seat when we bought the brand new car, the photos we didn't notice alongside the articles in last month's Penthouse, and the fact that we know everyone's name and vital statistics on The Bachelor, but have never seen the show, but it won't get us anywhere. The proof is in.

According to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control (motto: "So many microbes, so little time after taking a long lunch") 61 percent of Americans are overweight and one in five is obese. In other words, our figures look as bad as their figures. This means that if you look around and see four people who are within a normal weight range-for our purposes defined as being smaller than James Gandolfini and larger than Calista Flockhart-then you probably should stay away from mirrors for a while.

"But it's not just us," you're saying as you wonder why your new La-Z-Boy recliner didn't come with the built-in Slim Jim dispenser you requested. "There are fat people all over the world." That's true, though unfortunately most of them are American tourists.

This public health hazard may help explain the findings released by the World Health Organization (motto: "Take over two countries and call us in the morning"). It showed that out of 191 countries, the United States ranked as the 24th most likely to spawn Gérard Depardieu. Just kidding. Actually it was ranked number 24 according to how many years people can expect to live in "full health." This really isn't so bad. After all, it's not like we were at the bottom of the list along with Ethiopia, Botswana, and Uganda.

Ha!

And people say we have no excuse for being loud, obnoxious, and arrogant.

We can, and should, curb this trend. Doctors say that losing weight can bring about immediate benefits to our cardiovascular, pulmonary, and immune systems, not to mention their bank accounts. But you have to do it correctly. Fad diets, dangerous drugs, and permanently gluing your scale to 115 lbs. isn't the answer.


These simple guidelines are:

1. Eat less. Take smaller portions, stop eating before you feel full, and move to Brazil. A fifth of Rio de Janeiro's, and half of Sao Paolo's, restaurants now charge by weight. The food's, not yours, which is a relief. You can get rice, beans, spaghetti and beef for around $7 a kilo, or fancy Italian food for $13.50 a kilo. So if the prospect of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and having to buy two airplane tickets so you can lift the arm rest and be comfortable isn't enough to stop you from taking huge portions, maybe having to pay more money to overfill your plate will.

2. Move around a little. Experts say we should get 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. This can be in the form of walking, swimming, aerobics, or thinking hard about what excuse to use today for not doing any of the above. But exercise doesn't just help you lose weight, it has additional advantages. It strengthens your cardiovascular system, releases chemicals in the brain which give you a sense of well-being, and, if you're a man, can improve your sex life. Researchers working on the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (motto: "We're not getting older, we're just getting better at denial") found that men who exercise are less likely to become impotent. As word of this gets around you can expect to see more men jogging through the streets, giving new meaning to "Keeping it up with the Joneses."

3. Sleep more. As we age, not only does our eyesight, hearing, and, uh, uh...memory go downhill, but so does the quality of our sleep. A study at the University of Chicago (motto: "We're out of the Loop") discovered that as men grow older, the slow-wave-or most restful part of their night's sleep-grows shorter. The problem is that this is the phase of sleep during which a growth hormone is produced that affects lean tissue. Thus, too little sleep results in too little growth hormone and too large a spare tire. The answer is to sleep more. Not only will you lose weight, but you'll have fewer waking hours during which to avoid mirrors.

4. Move out of the suburbs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (motto: "The same as it was in the third paragraph") thinks suburban life may be to blame for adult obesity having increased 60 percent over the past decade. Since homes, schools, malls, and Ben & Jerry's are all more spread out, people are less inclined to walk. This in turn causes suburbanites to spread out more. Thus, moving downtown could help you lose weight. Especially if you walk there.

Remember, as with any weight loss program, slow, steady results are best.

But if we all stick with it, before you know it Americans on the whole will look better, feel better, and our life expectancy ranking will shoot up.

Now if we can only do something about being loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and badly dressed.



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